Bernard Stamm has a commanding lead in Around Alone, but his boat was literally coming apart in his hands as he finished the first Southern Ocean leg

If winning a round the world race like Around Alone is largely about finding the precarious balance between driving as hard as possible and preserving gear, Bernard Stamm has located a precise knife edge. He won the Cape Town to New Zealand leg by more than a day, but in the last few minutes the boat was literally coming apart in his hands.

Five days ago, Bernard Stamm arrived in Tauranga, New Zealand, to win the third consecutive leg of Around Alone. He finished by beating into appalling, steep seas, the worst conditions he had seen since leaving South Africa. In the last 24 hours, a large area of the starboard side of his Open 60 Bobst Group Armor Lux delaminated and peeled off, and as he crossed the line the top of the carbon rudder stock sheared just above the deck and the tiller came away. He has some serious work to do here before the next leg.

Stamm’s performance has been relentlessly consistent, though: bar a few miles, he has led this race all the way from New York. If Around Alone were being run on elapsed time rather than points, he would be walking away with it. Stamm has been in New Zealand for five days already and the 3rd placed boat hasn’t even arrived yet.

Arch rival Thierry Dubois is chasing as hard as he dares, but can’t quite catch him. Since Brixham, Dubois has been waiting for Stamm to go too far and skid off a corner, but it hasn’t happened yet. Instead, he’s the one plagued with breakages: a broken daggerboard on leg 2, and irreparable damage to his reacher and gennaker on this. “People say you’ve got to wait for Bernard to push too much and I say ‘I’m waiting, I’m waiting!'”he says, only half-joking.

This has been a fast leg for the two leading boats. The Southern Ocean has been uncharacteristically kind. There were no major storms. Stamm saw 55 knots only once. For the majority of the time, the wind was between 30 and 35 knots, the sort of conditions in which experienced skippers like Stamm can really pile on the power.

However, this takes its toll in every area. Stamm was close to having to stop in Hobart when engine mountings sheared. As he surfed downwind the whole engine vibrated perilously, putting the saildrive seal in jeopardy. Stamm managed a running repair by fixing the engine to battens and lashing them to both sides of the boat. Fortunately, the rubber seal did not break.

During his last night at sea, as the boat slammed upwind in short 4-5m seas, Stamm believes he hit something just below the waterline. The outer layer of carbon began peeling away (unusually, the boat is built of four layers of unidirectional carbon on foam). The area affected is nearly 2m long and stretches from the deck to the waterline, as shown in the photo above. “It began from the impact and continued until there was something to break the fibre. It’s not very serious, but it’s a lot of work,” says Stamm who, like Thierry Dubois, built his boat himself. “The laminating will only take three or four hours, but the painting is more difficult.”

A similar pattern of dominance is being repeated in Class 2, where US sailor Brad Van Liew has had such a fast leg that he has overtaken Bruce Schwab, the backmarker of Class 1. Van Liew is likely to finish the leg on Wednesday and is hard on the heels of Emma Richards, who is now only 10 miles ahead and hampered by a repaired mainsail, something Van Liew will undoubtedly be trying to turn to his advantage.

The next arrival, however, will be either Graham Dalton on Hexagon or Simone Bianchetti, sailing Tiscali. These two are fighting for 3rd place and are due tomorrow. Dalton, a New Zealander and a native of Tauranga, wants that podium place badly. With lighter winds predominating, local knowledge ought to help.